Education and Training – First Steps to Safety

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In addition to all other qualifications, a good grasp of safe work practices and the Canadian Electrical Code are essential to everyone employed in the electrical industry. This is true in particular when people are engaged in electrical engineering, construction, maintenance or in operating electrical facilities. It follows that the electrical industry has a unique responsibility to ensure that people are made aware of personal safety risks and fully qualified to carry out their assigned responsibilities with safety in mind.

The electrical environment is unforgiving and requires that people have the necessary knowledge and skills to avoid the harm of electrical shocks, explosions and fires. Employers have a moral and legal responsibility to provide workers with relevant experience, knowledge and skills to keep themselves, their fellow workers and the general public safe from harm. It’s no secret that electrical safety depends heavily on education, training, professional supervision and management.

Worker Competence

The ISO 9001:2000 international quality standard offers some guidelines for developing worker competence. That portion of the standard begins with a general requirement that workers must be competent on the basis of appropriate education, training, skills and experience. As a first step, all essential tasks should have job descriptions that clearly specify the minimum qualifications and responsibilities of each position. In the electrical industry, safety is paramount in all jobs.

Organizations can only achieve their objectives (including safety objectives) with knowledgeable and experienced people at all organizational levels. The competencies of new hires should be determined by initially comparing job requirements against the qualifications of each new employee. Where professional development and training is determined as necessary, it must be provided.

Training Plans

The next step is closing any identified gaps between a new employee’s existing qualifications and the job requirements and developing a training plan. While training is still a primary means of achievement, other methods including industry seminars, membership and participation in industry associations are also recognized means to achieve these objectives.

When qualified persons are selected to positions that require detailed knowledge of safe work practices, safety regulations and the electrical code, management should develop training plans to ensure that the necessary capability is achieved within a specified time. Management must demonstrate its commitment to employee safety and overall competency by ensuring that the necessary training and supervision is provided.

Professional Development and Training

Orientation is a frequently overlooked first step when someone enters a new job. In addition to the usual obligatory details concerning hours of work, vacation and weekly pay, new employees should also be given a thorough understanding of:

  • The organization’s policies and objectives
  • Any organizational changes underway
  • Workplace regulations, health and safety
  • The importance of their own work to achieving the organization’s overall objectives including safety objectives

Professional development and training provided to both new and existing staff should be geared not only to the immediate needs of the workplace, but should look to the future and consider:

  • The future demands of the workplace
  • Succession planning
  • Changes in work methods, tools and equipment
  • Regulations and standards that could affect present and future work
  • Leadership and management skills
  • Problem solving
  • Communications skills

Training Evaluation

Not only must people become competent on the basis of education, training, skills and experience, but that the means used to achieve worker competence must continually be evaluated in order to judge its effectiveness. It follows that when the methods used are not achieving the required results or where there is only limited success, management should look for other options.

Evaluation of training usually starts with an initial evaluation by those involved in the training. This is followed up with short and longer term evaluations by management to determine whether the participants have gained the required knowledge, whether they are using it and whether their overall performance has improved as the result of the training received.

Complete and precise training records are essential elements in developing employee safety skills and overall competence. Management can only make informed decisions on development needs, promotions and other decisions when comprehensive and detailed information is readily available.

In this industry, electrical safety awareness and suitable skills are fundamental components of overall competence. It is imperative that they not be neglected.

About the Author

Leslie Stoch, P. Eng, is principal of L. Stoch & Associates, providing electrical engineering and ISO 9000 quality systems consulting. Prior to that, he spent over 20 years with Ontario Hydro as an electrical inspection manager and engineer. Les holds a B. S. in electrical engineering from Concordia University in Montreal.